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For an open-minded investor, the idea of investing in land might bring to mind a range of dreams: a “sold” sign on a wide-open space near the mountains, an “under new ownership” notice for a busy apartment complex in an urban neighborhood, or a breaking ground on a commercial mixed-use space in an up-and-coming suburb. All are correct and more. Land is a finite resource with many uses beyond real estate that range from farming to mining for natural resources and beyond. There is no doubt that investing in raw land gives investors options. Although real estate markets ebb and flow, land tends to appreciate in value over time. This is no surprise given the dynamics of a limited supply, increasing demand, and a growing population. For example, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “the United States farm real estate value, a measurement of the value of all land and buildings on farms, averaged $3,160 per acre for 2019, up $60 per acre (1.9 percent) from 2018.” That’s an increase of $1,610 per acre from 2005.  While buying land offers a broad range of investments from real estate to agriculture, investing in land isn’t a quick-solution or an endeavor to take lightly. Here’s what investors should know and consider.  

What Are Land Investments?

Overall, there are three types of real estate investments: commercial, residential, and vacant or raw land. The uses for raw land can be further broken down into categories including row crop land, livestock-raising land, timberland, mineral production land, vegetable farmland, vineyards, orchards, and recreational land. Land can also be purchased and held until appreciation.  When it comes to land investment, things aren’t always as they seem on the surface. There are a number of different rights to be aware of, which include:   1)  Air rights: An investor might own the land, but do they own the airspace above it? Not necessarily. Owning air rights gives the investor the right to use, rent, or develop the space above the land without interference by others. This often comes into play in commercial real estate when zoning requirements determine how many stories tall a developer can build.  2)  Mineral rights: Mineral rights are “legal rights or ownership to the minerals below the surface of real estate, which can include coal, oil, natural gas, metals, and more.” 3)  Water rights: Water rights “are the legal rights to use water from a local source such as a river, ditch, pond, or lake.” Water rights tend to be different in the East vs the West. In Eastern states, landowners who have a waterway that moves through their property may use water in a reasonable way, not unreasonably detaining or diverting it. In Western states, water rights must be established before using any source of water. In these areas, water rights are typically sold separately from land.  4)  Zoning: Local governments and municipalities have established rules and regulations that determine how a property may or may not be used. Properties may be zoned as residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, recreational, historical, or aesthetic. As a developer, it’s crucial to make sure that your plans align with the zoning requirements.   5)  Ingress and Egress: If an investment property doesn’t have direct road access to the parcel of land on which it sits, formal easements may be required.  Simply put: when it comes to investing, not all land is created equal and research is required.  Why Invest in Land? Land is a dynamic investment with lots of opportunity—it can yield high returns, passive income, and large profit margins. Investors can plan to develop raw land, buy and hold, buy and lease, buy and sell with owner financing, or flip the land as it is into something entirely new.  It’s possible to generate future income by purchasing raw land and doing minimal maintenance, (especially if you are planning to keep it vacant and let it appreciate). Investing in raw land for purposes of development, however,  “requires more patience and a penchant for long-term strategies.”  Before investing, investors should calculate your cap rates, or an investment’s yields and potential risks. Regardless of how you plan to utilize land for returns— for farming, real estate, leasing, or other— investors should consider the trends in those markets both locally and nationally.  Investors should also consider taxes, especially when it comes to reselling land. If an investor owns a piece of land for less than one year before selling, tax rates can be as high as 37 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center. Of course, for investors looking for a less direct, less expensive, and much less time intensive way to diversify into land investing, ETFs offer a range of opportunities. These include real estate ETFs or Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS) and agricultural ETFs.  REITs typically invest in “securities that are related to mortgage financing of real estate, including not only mortgage loans but also mortgage-backed securities and similar derivative investments.” REITs may focus on their property type, such as residential, retail, healthcare, self-storage, industrial, office, hotel, data center, or timber REITs.  Moreover, REITs allow investors to get involved in real estate with smaller amounts of money than required to buy properties. If you consider that on average a home in the U.S. costs $200,000 and a commercial property can cost much more, it’s easy to understand that building a diverse real estate portfolio would be expensive. REITs, on the other hand, allow investors to buy shares of a grouping of a diverse range of properties with a share costing as low as $100. Investing in land, particularly buying a plot of land for a specific purpose, is nothing to take lightly. While it can offer big returns, it also poses big challenges and requires extensive planning. ETFs offer another path that might be right for those interested in getting their feet wet. Either way, investing in this finite resource is likely to pay off in the long run. [/vc_column_text]

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